Luo Zhen waited a few days, but when he saw that Duke Jing Guo’s only punishment for his daughter was to have her kneel in the ancestral hall for two days, as if this was all he owed the second branch, his heart was inevitably resentful. He had five sons, and because of strict parenting, and teaching each child according to their ability, two of them successfully passed the imperial examinations, and although the other three were still young, they were already showing promise. Whether a family flourished or not depended solely on the offspring’s brilliance or incompetence. Luo Zhen dared not vocalize it, but he absolutely believed that the second branch would eventually surpass the main branch, so whenever he faced Duke Jing Guo, he not only didn’t feel inferior, he felt quite proud.
Duke Jing Guo humiliated Luo Zhen in such a way, and he himself was also not very interested in keeping ties with Jing Guo Duchy, if he was going to properly manage his small branch, wouldn’t it be better to separate? That Duke Jing Gou was so short sighted, he’d already made up his mind to help the Gong Prince usurp the throne, not even thinking about whether he had the talent to accomplish it, or what would happen if the plan failed.
Luo Zhen had secretly advised him a few times to no avail, so he felt like a guillotine was hanging over his head at all times, its fall imminent. He resented the Empress Dowager for pulling him into this muddy water, and racked his brain for ways to turn things around, in the end, he could only think of the route of absolute loyalty to the Emperor.
The Emperor was ruthless, but he was also very benevolent, and he paid great attention to talented people. He believed that as long as he didn’t make a mistake, his family wouldn’t be implicated. Thinking of this, Luo Zhen felt increasingly thankful for having such a wise Emperor, in this way, he could use his talent to serve the country at ease. After coming to a decision, he became more and more active in the imperial court, and clearly felt the Emperor becoming more appreciative of him. Years ago, the Jing Guo Duchy had tried pushing for more power, and the Empress Dowager tried monopolizing the imperial court to improve her status, but even though the Emperor began suppressing the Empress Dowager and company, he’d left him alone. Back then, he really should’ve realized how broad and open-minded the Emperor was.
This day in the imperial court, Luo Zhen once again witnessed the Emperor’s fine governance, his wisdom once again touching his heart and mind. Back at his official residence, he found his wife sitting in the living room, her expression gloomy, she seemed to have been waiting for a long time.
“Is something wrong?” Luo Zhen asked, his heart filling with an ominous premonition.
“Our daughter has been sick for many days, even the imperial physician hasn’t been able to take care of her, so I invited the famous healer, Doctor Jin Lao, to look over her. Guess what he discovered.” Lady Luo forcefully rubbed the tears filling her eyes away, then calmly opened, “Lan-er is not in shock, she’s been drugged.”
“What drug?” Luo Zhen asked, his complexion ashen. The Lady would never joke about such a thing, she certainly investigated things thoroughly before reporting to him.
Indeed, Lady Luo did secretly investigate for a few days. She’d invited Doctor Jin Lao to diagnose her daughter’s pulse three days ago, the man had exposed a hesitant expression at that time, but seemed to be afraid of being questioned closely, and gave a vague explanation, prescribing a dosage of medicine before hurriedly leaving. Lady Luo was intelligent and capable, how could she not see the clues? Her heart tightening in anxiety, she forced herself to calm down, and repeatedly recalled Doctor Jin’s expression, more and more convinced that something was wrong. So, she secretly invited more doctors, carefully observing their expressions when she asked about her daughter’s condition, and unexpectedly, each of them had evasive eyes and gave vague explanations.
Lady Luo grew even more uneasy, so she asked her maternal home to arrange a reliable doctor for her, and was finally informed of the truth. Turns out, Luo Lan’s body was actually contaminated by Han poison, presumably ingested with a some kind of medicine. Because of long term use, they feared that any future heirs would be compromised. Children were the lifeblood of women, and also their foothold in their husband’s family, if their daughter couldn’t bear children, she would only suffer in her future in-law’s household. The person who gave their daughter this poison destroyed her life!
Lady Luo quickly locked down her daughter’s rooms and interrogated all the servants who served her one by one, through coercion, torture, all kinds of means, even capturing their families to threaten them, she finally found the culprit. That person was not just any old servant, it was Luo Lan’s personal head maidservant, Xi Er, the first class palace maid the Empress Dowager had personally granted her a few days ago. In order to please the Empress Dowager, Luo Lan had immediately appointed her the head maid, and put all her confidence in her.
“Why would the Empress Dowager hurt Lan-er, she has no reason to ah!” Luo Zhen retorted on intuition.
“It’s not the Empress Dowager, it’s the Gong Prince.” Finally reaching the main topic, after patiently enduring the whole conversation, Lady Luo’s eyes suddenly flushed, tears almost spilling.
“How can it be him? What does he gain from making Lan-er infertile? Those are his heirs!” Luo Zhen found his wife’s suggestion ridiculous, he really didn’t understand what in the world would cause a man to deliberately make his wife infertile. Does he not need heirs? What about trying to seize the throne?
Lady Luo finally couldn’t bear it, she broke out in tears, choking out, “Xi Er also didn’t know the details, she only knew that the Gong Prince has someone else in his heart, so he was willing to let Lan-er occupy the first wife position, but didn’t want to have children from anyone other than that person. We thought we were making Lan-er an honorable princess, but she was just becoming that man’s display piece. If we hadn’t found clues from this sickness, we would’ve condemned our daughter to a lonely and bitter life. How could they be so cruel to the poor girl! My husband, Qi Jin Yu is too wicked, you must get justice for Lan-er!”
Luo Zhen’s head throbbed, he rubbed his aching temples while asking his wife if she knew who the Gong Prince’s lover was. However, Xi Er didn’t know those details, and even when she was tortured to the brink of death, she couldn’t tell them any valuable clues. Helpless, Lady Luo had no choice but to send her away, to let someone else look after her. She’d wanted to kill Xi Er, but was afraid of inadvertently alerting the enemy, and had to endure. The husband and wife considered their options for a whole day, then one took responsibility of nursing their daughter back to health, while the other sent spies to investigate, determined to find out the identity of the hidden lover.
Luo Zhen was extremely smart and quite handy, since the Gong Prince was willing to let his daughter be his wife, then the hidden woman must be someone he now couldn’t possess, but was very sure he could get in the future. To be infatuated to this extent, she was unlikely to be a woman he only met a few times, they must’ve been in contact for a long time. He followed these threads in the investigation and suddenly discovered- When the Gong Prince was younger, he got lost during a festival and was brought to the Wen Yuan March by Zhao Bi Xuan. Then he became Zhao Xuan’s acquaintance, and frequently travelled between the palace and the Wen Yuan March to train with him in martial arts, only stopping when Zhao Xuan was sent to campaign in the Northwest.
Zhao Bi Xuan had beauty to fell countries, enough beauty to bewitch every male in China, how could the Gong Prince be unaffected? Moreover, all the women he was known to associate with were from illustrious backgrounds and well-matched statuses, he just had to open his mouth, and whether he wanted to take them for a wife or concubine, he’d have all his wishes fulfilled. What kind of status would a woman need to be inaccessible to him? Luo Zhen looked through all the information one by one, and became certain that Zhao Bi Xuan was the Gong Prince’s lover. No wonder he poisoned his daughter but wanted to let her be his wife, because he couldn’t marry the one he truly wanted to marry. Such obvious anticipation for an inevitable abdication, he didn’t want his daughter to get pregnant, because someone would obviously be replacing her in the future- Killing the king and usurping his throne, forcefully taking away his brother’s wife ah! Thinking of this, Luo Zhen’s back was inexplicably covered by a layer of cold sweat.
The Gong Prince’s ambition was far bigger than he’d imagined, and even more difficult to shake. For just one woman, he behaved like a total madman!
Luo Zhen was more and more determined to cut off all relations with the Gong Prince. Jing Guo Duchy was the prince’s maternal home, they protected him from childhood to adulthood, but for this outsider, and moreover, the Emperor’s imperial concubine, he actually committed such a treacherous assault. This showed that he didn’t have the slightest care for the Jing Guo Duchy, and they would probably be readily discarded after they were used up. If he only needed Lou Lan to temporarily occupy the first wife’s seat, what would he do when he finally accomplished his goal? In order to not offend the Jing Guo Duchy, he would never throw Lou Lan away or treat her coldly, the most effective way to get rid of her was to kill her. Such appalling ambition, such vicious methods, but of all things, his mind was muddled by a beauty, so his behavior was absurd, and he heeded no laws, in the end, it would be difficult for him to become a capable ruler.
If he usurped the throne, he would become another fire beacon trickster like King You of Zhou. The more Luo Zhen pondered over it, the more he despised the short-sighted and inept Gong Prince, so he made up his mind – no matter what it took, he had to decline this marriage. He walked to the rear courtyard to visit his daughter, looking at her emaciated figure, baggy dress, and eyes flushed red from long nights of endless weeping, completely different from her former spiritedness, he felt like a knife was digging into his heart. However, he couldn’t directly oppose the Gong Prince and the Empress Dowager, and also couldn’t let the poisoning become gossip, unfortunately, he could only forcibly choke back this mouthful of resentment.
“The Gong Prince has defiled us, his relatives. He only wanted to use us as a ladder, a stepping stone to be discarded at any moment. One day, I will let him understand that if you don’t watch where you step, you might suffer a fatal fall, especially when you roam high in the clouds.” After comforting his daughter, he sent his wife into the palace to have an audience with the Empress Dowager.
Soon, news of the future princess’ sickness and approaching death spread throughout the capital. The Empress Dowager sent several imperial physicians to look over her, and they all shook their heads and sighed, refusing to comment, showing that the illness was far more critical than the rumors. Luo Zhen couldn’t help but sneer when he sent the imperial physicians off. The high medical courtyard’s physicians were accustomed to keeping dark secrets, and as expected, all of them were very experienced, they were clearly able to tell that his daughter was poisoned from her pulse, but not one of them spoke up. After all, it wasn’t their daughter, they naturally weren’t troubled.
When the imperial physicians returned to the palace, they didn’t dare conceal the matter, they truthfully reported to the Empress Dowager as quickly as they could. The Empress Dowager felt her head throb painfully at the news, after considering for a few days, she wished to cancel her son’s engagement with Luo Lan, but dreaded bringing it up. No matter how capable Luo Zhen was, she wouldn’t let her son take an infertile wife. Fortunately, Luo Zhen was very sensible, he took the initiative to visit the palace and ask for a marriage withdrawal. The Empress Dowager declined a few times before ‘reluctantly’ agreeing, that evening, Luo Lan was sent back to her home state, Jiangxi, to ‘wait for death’.
After Duchess Jing Guo heard the news, she immediately visited the palace, and recommended her daughter with an upright expression. The Empress Dowager was very annoyed, driving her out without a trace of politeness, then she took out the candidate list and browsed through it, uncertain.
Now that the matter had progressed to this step, Zhou Yun Sheng felt it was time to present her his preferred wife candidate for Qi Jin Yu.
“Qian Fangfei? Zhenbei General Qian Tong’s first daughter?” The Empress Dowager’s eyes brightened. The Zhenbei General held eight hundred thousand troops, his strength was only second to Zhao Xuan, in the imperial court, he had quite a lot of sway. Before the Emperor purged the imperial court, he’d gathered up his troops, clearly wanting to replace the Emperor, but because he couldn’t find a justifiable reason, he gave up. This showed that Qian Tong was a very crafty person. Even more wonderful, when the late Emperor proposed setting up an heir, he’d supported the An Prince. He was never a fan of Qi Yi Ning, who he felt resembled an embroidered pillow, and he’d even sent several memorials to the previous Emperor to express his opposition. Once he saw that Qi Yi Ning was chosen as heir, he asked to be stationed at the border, and hasn’t returned to the capital in the last fifteen years.
In order to control him, Qi Yi Ning detained several of his sons and daughters in the capital, letting a bunch of spoiled nobles deliberately approach and influence them, so they gradually became wastrels. Qian Tong had such a fierce temperament, the Empress Dowager refused to believe that he wasn’t secretly resentful. The enemy of my enemy is a friend, when the Empress Dowager thought of Qian Tong’s power and influence, she couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement.
“Yes ah, don’t prejudge Qian Jia’s eldest daughter for being a General’s daughter, she’s very proficient in the four arts (zither, Go, calligraphy, painting), and her appearance is quite dignified and beautiful. She’s a very elegant and pleasant person, very fitting for His Highness.” Lady Luo, under her husband’s order, had entered the palace to lobby with the Empress Dowager after learning about the Emperor’s plan from her husband. Marrying Qian Jia was no different than helping the Gong Prince find an excellent helper, she really couldn’t understand why the Emperor would arrange such a thing. Thinking of her daughter’s bitter experience, she wondered whether the Emperor was also aware of the inside story, and intended to let the young lady Qian marry him, and when she was eventually poisoned, the Gong Prince and Qian Tong would fall out?
She conveyed her speculation to her husband, but he rejected it, “Qian Tong is a very ruthless and ambitious man, he would give up anything to gain more power. When he was besieged by the Bei Di army on Qiu Ming Mountain, and the army rations and fodder were cut off, in order to escape the trap, he went so far as to kill his concubines and their children, serving their cooked flesh to his soldiers. The soldiers were so touched they risked their lives to protect him. That man is so merciless to his own self, forget caring about his first daughter being poisoned. Even if she was poisoned to death, as long as he was still allied with the Gong Prince, he wouldn’t fall out with them. This probably isn’t the Emperor’s plan.”
Lady Luo didn’t understand the plan but let it pass, although shocked speechless at Qian Tong’s mercilessness, she still entered the palace to help the Empress Dowager choose. Sure enough, the Empress Dowager picked Qian Fangfei. Afraid the Emperor would reject, she actually feigned falling ill and invited over a fortune reader, who said that the Gong Prince must quickly get married for her to recover. That girl must be a very well-bred young lady, and it just so happened that only Qian Fangfei and the Empress Dowager’s birthdate characters were compatible.
Zhou Yun Sheng was quite amused watching the Empress Dowager’s little drama, waiting for her to torture herself till she was skin and bones before ‘reluctantly’ sending out an imperial decree. He naturally had a reason for choosing Qian Fangfei, but it was far different from Lady Luo’s guess. This Qian Fangfei could also be considered quite a character, she’d completely inherited her father’s ruthlessness. Last life, because Qian Jia was being suppressed by the Emperor, she didn’t marry a good man, her husband was a famous wastrel in the capital, spending every day in brothels, having constant affairs, even performing depraved acts with one of her servant girls. No caring whether the girl was willing or forced, she immediately murdered her once she investigated it, casually tossing the bloody corpse out into the street. If she discovered an affair, she would burn the mistress’ house to ashes with the residents trapped inside, and she personally pushed more than one bastard child to their deaths.
That wastrel really couldn’t stand her, but didn’t dare provoke her, so he allied with his mother and tried to poison her while she was pregnant. By a fluke, she discovered to two’s conspiracy, her lower body bleeding incessantly, she stubbornly lifted a sword and chased the two down the street, chopping them into mincemeat. This event was too big, even the Zhou Yun Sheng who was often busy fulfilling tasks for the system heard of it. He purposely rushed to the prison to admire this outlandish woman. He’d thought that the woman would already be insane, however, her thoughts were calm and sober, her mind active. She wanted to hand over evidence of her father’s plans for rebellion in exchange for her life. It was obvious that regardless of how she behaved, her escape route was always mapped out.
After Zhou Yun Sheng walked out of the jail, he spent a long time in astonishment, and had to sigh in admiration for her heart and mind that was harder and colder than steel, if she was born male, he feared that even her father Qian Tong would be unable to live. Therefore, if he didn’t give this woman to Qi Jin Yu, he’d simply be a fool who ignores his prophetic advantage. If Qi Jin Yu used the methods to deal with ordinary women on Qian Fangfei, he’d definitely regret it. When she was once again imprisoned, Zhou Yun Sheng estimated that she’d offer proof of Qian Tong’s rebellion in exchange for her life again, which would help him kill two birds with one stone.
Qian Fangfei was beautiful, and her temperament was gentle, judging by appearance, she was entirely a typical noble lady. She was very satisfied with Qi Jin Yu’s handsomeness and simple emotional life, so she suppressed her nature after the marriage, willingly becoming a ‘delicate’ little wife. Qi Jin Yu was patiently ‘lovey dovey’ with her for a few months, then he suddenly received news about the three major provinces in the Southwest, which were suffering from a huge drought. The drought-stricken people were growing unstable, so a few courtiers needed to go over and encourage them. To accumulate political capital, he needed to perform a few errands and gain a good reputation after the marriage.
In the last life’s Southwest drought, a majority of the courtiers contacted Zhou Yun Sheng, recommending that he send the Gong Prince to deal with the matter, but now, only two or three courtiers mentioned this matter, and they didn’t dare recommend it out loud, only sending memorials. Zhou Yun Sheng was simply too effective. In the last life, Qi Jin Yu inspected the Southwest with Luo Zhen for advice, and Zhao Xuan for protection, they were two of Da Qi’s most capable people, completing every assigned job properly, perfectly. When Qi Jin Yu finally left the Southwest, the populace of the three provinces gathered by the roadsides to send him off, their tears spilling, their parasols packed together, the wall of colors seemingly endless.
This achievement, and the hearts of all the people he moved, allowed Qi Jin Yu to formally step into the political arena. He was wise and strong, and Zhou Yun Sheng was muddle-headed and incompetent, the courtiers’ minds were naturally inclined to a change. But in this life, the situation was obviously very different, Luo Zhen and Zhao Xuan would definitely refuse to go with Qi Jin Yu, did he have the ability to control the chaotic situation by himself?
Zhou Yun Sheng would keep his eyes wide open, waiting to see the outcome.
According to his wish, Qi Jin Yu received the assignment, and was currently in the Empress Dowager’s palace, enjoying an evening a meal. After listening to the Empress Dowager’s guidance, he traveled to Jing Guo Duchy to find Luo Zhen.
“His Royal Highness wants this small official to go to the Southwest with you? Without the Emperor’s agreement, this small official wouldn’t dare leave the capital without permission.”
“You can go petition the Emperor tomorrow, in order to quickly stabilize the Southwest’s chaos, I’m sure he will agree.”
“Is that so, then this small official will bring him the accounts book tomorrow.” Luo Zhen respectfully promised, but his heart was sneering nonstop.
Qi Jin Yu thought his goal would soon be achieved, so his heart was very pleased, feigning concern for Luo Lan’s condition, he repeatedly expressed that his life’s greatest regret is not being able to marry her. Things were still tolerable before he said these words, after he said them, Luo Zhen’s buried hatred was stirred to the extreme, wishing he could personally strangle the other man. Forcefully pushing down his hatred, Luo Zhen socialized with him for a while, and after he left, he cursed him viciously.
Qi Jin Yu left Jing Guo Duchy and secretly met with Zhao Ji Dong. The two were childhood friends, and Zhao Ji Dong often helped him pass messages to Zhao Bi Xuan, so he was well aware of their adultery. Nowadays, Zhao Ji Dong actually wanted to keep his distance from him, but unfortunately, he held too many of his sister’s secrets, if one day the secrets were exposed, Wen Yuan March would be exterminated, beyond redemption. His scholarly honor, his glory, his title, he would lose them all.
Truly, you can’t unring a bell! If only my sister had kept this to herself back then, I wouldn’t be so on edge now, every day drags like a year. Zhao Ji Dong unsurprisingly blamed Zhao Bi Xuan, after hearing Qi Jin Yu’s offer, he lowered his eyes and deliberated, then agreed after a moment. This mission to provide disaster relief to the Southwest was a great opportunity, and with Master Luo Zhen there to handle the overall situation, he could just sit back and enjoy their achievements. Tons of benefits for no effort, why not go?
Qi Jin Yu talked it over with Zhao Ji Dong, then went to visit Zhao Xuan.
“Sorry, I can’t help you. The Emperor’s very apprehensive if my army’s power, I have to look after my own hide, so I don’t plan to intervene in any governmental affairs. I’m only waiting for the Emperor to be in a good enough mood to send me back to the Northwest. You better find someone else.” Zhao Xuan stroked the rim of his white porcelain tea-cup, his tone callous. This going back to the Northwest excuse was naturally bogus, even if he needed to go back, he would definitely bring that man with him. Furthermore, he’d just received news from an investigation, right now, he hated that he couldn’t personally wring Qi Jin Yu’s neck, how could he agree to help him.
A few weeks ago, Qi Jin Yu learned about the scholar that had his fingers crushed, and sent people out to spread rumors among the scholars, saying that the Emperor sent soldiers to destroy the man’s hands because he didn’t like his poem. The Da Qi people were very open, it wasn’t taboo for common people to talk about politics, especially scholars, who were proud to openly voice their critiques. After the scholars checked out the rumors, they were indignant, and jointly wrote complaints against the Emperor’s tyranny and muddle-headedness. Although they were eventually suppressed, they managed to deal great damage to the Emperor’s reputation.
That was obviously something he’d ordered, but Qi Yi Ning ended up having to carry the burden, so Zhao Xuan felt like he’d wronged him, and was looking for ways to support and compensate him. Qi Jin Yu wanted to go to the Southwest? Excellent, he’d send people to ‘escort’ him properly, Qi Jin Yu could only hope he’ll be able to return with an intact corpse.
Qi Jin Yu also knew about Zhao Xuan’s difficulties, but was even more worried about his own safety, he tried his second best plead, “Big Brother Zhao, you don’t have to go personally, you can just borrow me some skilled imperial bodyguards. I heard that the Southwest is already a completely chaotic mess, there are bandits all over the place, and they’re especially intent on killing the court ordered officials. I fear even my identity is not enough to deter them.”
“I don’t have any guards to spare, go find someone else.” Zhao Xuan said. To him, Qi Jin Yu was already a dead man, he didn’t need to be polite to a corpse, dropping his cup, he flicked his sleeves and turned away.
“Humph! You’ve really let success go to your head. Just wait, that Emperor will make you regret your misplaced loyalty one day.” His face pale with anger, Qi Jin Yu ruthlessly smashed his tea cup. On his way back to his house, he thought and thought, feeling that he needed to find some more helping hands, he passed a message to Zhao Bi Xuan hidden deep in the palace.
That night, Zhao Bi Xuan wore her most sheer dress and performed a private butterfly ballet for the Emperor, taking advantage of the Emperor’s delight to ‘inadvertently’ mention the Southwest’s chaos, suggesting that the Gong Prince traveling by himself for disaster relief was not wise, he needed a few clever and capable officials to assist him. If the Southwest’s rebels were not stopped, the Northwest, North and other states would also break out into chaos, and when that time came, the ending would not be pretty.
Zhou Yun Sheng smiled and praised her foresight, and the next day, he really sent four ministers to accompany the Gong Prince, but except for Zhao Ji Dong, the other three were not the candidates Qi Jin Yu had expected. However, the imperial edict had already passed down, it couldn’t be changed, so Qi Jin Yu had no choice but to promptly pack his things, his heart depressed. The other three ministers had a common derogatory nickname in the imperial court – the three don’t do’s. One; don’t provoke powerful ministers, two; don’t defy sinful ministers, three; don’t deal with important affairs, except for eating and lazing around, they had no other interests. Taking these three idiots to the Southwest, Qi Jin Yu’s future would definitely be full of hardships.
He knew that the Emperor had set his eyes on him, because he’d married Qian Fangfei and was now a threat. Qian Fangfei? Qi Jin Yu’s eyes brightened, remembering that his wife was the daughter of the Zhenbei General, if she lacked for anything, it definitely wasn’t elite troops. For the first time, he felt that his mother forcing him to take a wife was the right decision.
After Qian Fangfei heard about her husband’s difficultly, she risked the Emperor’s suspicion to lend him a few dozen shadow guards, ordering them to escort Qi Jin Yu all the way to the Southwest, they must tail him everywhere and bring him back. Such a clean, honest, and extraordinarily handsome husband, if he died, she’d never be able to find another one in the world, so she must properly treasure him.
King You of Zhou- Wikipedia “The twelfth king of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty. In 779 BC, a concubine named Bao Si entered the palace and came into the King You’s favour. It is said that Baosi did not laugh easily. After trying many methods and failing, King You tried to amuse his favorite queen by lighting warning beacons and fooling his nobles into thinking that the Quanrong nomads were about to attack. The nobles arrived at the castle only to find themselves laughed at by Baosi. Even after King You had impressed Baosi, he continued to abuse his use of warning beacons and lost the trust of the nobles.”